Finishing Techniques for Knit Fabric // Stretch Yourself

This series is sponsored by Baby Lock. For over 40 years, Baby Lock has been dedicated to the love of sewing by creating machines for sewing, embroidery, quilting and serging – all with ease-of-use, high quality and a touch of elegance.

stretch yourself logo Finishing Techniques for Knit Fabric // Stretch Yourself

It doesn’t take long to realize that sewing with knits is easy and very forgiving.  Once you get a hang of the construction (Miranda‘s covering how to construct a knit tee today) it all comes down to the finishing details. The small touches like hemming and top stitching are hands down the most important thing when it comes to making your garment look professional. Just learning a few simple tips can totally make the difference between a homemade looking garment and completely professional looking one.  I sewed knits for years on just my sewing machine, and now do almost all my knit sewing on a serger, so I’ll talk about all the many finishing techniques for whatever machine you happen to be using. I’ll also talk about and introduce  my new Diana serger, and show a few of its magical powers like coverstitching and flatlocking.i

A word on needles and feet. It’s really important with knit to use the right needles. If you don’t (and trust me I have), then you end up with these lovely little holes along the the seam line .  Use stretch or ball point needles! Also, a walking foot can be so helpful when sewing knits, especially if you’re using a sewing machine.  A walking foot helps the fabric feed evenly, so it helps eliminate lots of unwanted stretching and wonkiness. If you’re having drama with a particular fabric or finish, try changing your needle or using a walking foot! It might solve your problem!

Finishing Neck Openings:

mad mim stretch yourself finishing techniques01 Finishing Techniques for Knit Fabric // Stretch YourselfA neckband is definitely the most common neckline finish, and certainly the method I use the most. It’s simple–you fold your band together lengthwise and pin it and your neck opening in quarters. You then match the quartered band to the quartered neck opening and stick a few pins in between. Serge or zig zag along the raw edges and then turn up and press well. Top stitching is optional, although I highly recommend it.

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Although I don’t personally use this technique very much, many people just simple turn the neck under and usually zig zag  it down. In this picture I actually serged the edge for stability, and then used a straight stitch  because the neck opening was plenty big and wasn’t going to be stretched. I recommend stabilizing with soft knit tape along the inside before turning when using this method, as it helps to keep it evenly folded and makes a much neater stitch.

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mad mim stretch yourself finishing techniques11 Finishing Techniques for Knit Fabric // Stretch YourselfBinding the neckline is another option, and this is often used on children’s wear for a slightly more sporty look. I like to use this method on lightweight knits, as thicker more stable knits can get pretty bulky with a bound edge.  To bind a hem you’ll cut a length of fabric (on the bias optionally, it lies flatter but isn’t necessary) that is twice the height of your desired binding plus a generous 1/4″ for turning, and about 7/8′s the length of your neck opening. You sew the short ends of your binding together RST and then fold lengthwise WST. Pin to the WRONG side of your neck opening, raw edges aligned, and then serge or zig zag.  Flip the binding over to the right side of the fabric (enclosing the seam allowance), pin well and then topstitch down. (see the flatlock example at the bottom as well for a bound neckline).mad mim stretch yourself finishing techniques37 Finishing Techniques for Knit Fabric // Stretch Yourself

Finishing sleeves and hems:

The first and obvious option is to leave them unhemmed. Knits are wonderful that way. They curl up quite a bit, and sometimes that can be just the look you want.

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mad mim stretch yourself finishing techniques30 Finishing Techniques for Knit Fabric // Stretch Yourself

The above are examples of sewing machine finishes (again, REMEMBER to use a stretch or ball point needle!)  From top to bottom: stretch stitch, zig zag, overlock stitch and a double needle.  Like I said before, I sewed with  knits for years without a serger, and so I can tell you that not having one is no excuse for avoiding knits!  The stretch stitch I’m not a huge fan of because it’s very slow and also not very neat looking to me, but all the rest are good options that produce nice results (I used the overlock stitch frequently!)

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One of the most important things I can tell you concerning hemming knit fabric, is that although I hardly ever (never?) pin while hemming, I ALWAYS press the hems up before sewing. This is so important if you want a professional looking hem! If you don’t, the fabric will likely slip and shift and your hem will be wonky and inconsistent. Another thing I want to mention is how useful  knit stay tape is when working with lightweight tissue jerseys (or any knit!), no matter what your hemming method is. Some knits are just so light and stretchy that any hemming method stretches and destorts them. Knit stay tape will save your life! It gives just enough stability to provide for a nice and neat stitch, but it’s still stretchy! Before I found the above knit stay tape I used bias cut strips of fusible knit interfacing, which also works well and you can find it at Joann’s.

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mad mim stretch yourself finishing techniques17a Finishing Techniques for Knit Fabric // Stretch Yourself

The truth about double needles, is that they’re awesome. IF they work. Double needles can be really finicky depending on your fabric, and often one side or both skips stitches–especially if you sew just a little beyond the fold. Above you can see that for the sleeve hem I had to go over it at leasty twice because it had skipped so many stitches. Sometimes they are a dream, and sometimes, for no apparent reason, they don’t work at all. That’s when I would resort to double lines of straight stitching, which I’ll address later. My best advice for trouble shooting a double needle, is to make sure they are good and sharp (change them out frequently), and then bust out that knit stay tape and stabilize stabilize stabilize!

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Let’s move onto serger finishes. Of course you can always just simply serge the edge (see the bottom ruffle for the no-hemming example), or above are two examples of the very common rolled hem–the top one being stretched while serging to produce what’s called a “lettuce” or ruffled edge.  The rolled hem looks great on light weight knits and long maxi skirts or dresses, and I think the lettuce edge is very sweet and feminine on little girl’s clothes.

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And then there’s the coverstitch! My Babylock Diana serger is both a serger and coverstitch machine in one, and the coverstitch function is so cool in makes me completely weak in the knees. The Diana can do a single chain stitch and then double (in two different widths) and triple coverstitches. What’s so cool about these stitches are that they are a straight, neat and even on top, but serged on the bottom creating the ultimately professional and functional garment! I can tell you that my heart skipped a beat the first time I tried it out, what a thrill! Coverstitching is what you will find on all ready-to-wear clothing, and it’s a great option for all types of knits and all types of projects.

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So awesome!

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And lastly, although I shouldn’t even mention this as a viable option because it really isn’t a great choice, is the normal straight stitch.  I once had a sewing mentor show me how to ever-so-slightly add a little tension while you sew, and she said that would be enough from keeping the stitches from snapping. She was sometimes right. Like I mentioned before, any time my double needles were giving me grief  (which was all too often) I would in desperation turn to straight stitching with added ease. The result MOST of the time would be a sadly snapped hem that I would eventually have to re-do.

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But sometimes it would work: when the garment is over-sized and not likely to be stretched very much  you can get away with it, and then sometimes if you add enough ease you’ll get lucky with an intact hem. The trick is to very gently tug on the fabric as it feeds under the presser foot. This takes some time to get a feel for, and really I only recommend if you are out of other options.

Hem and Arm bands (and faux bands!):
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Adding bands to sleeves and hems is another great way to finish your garment, and often it’s the easiest of the options.  To add an arm or hem band, cut a rectangle of fabric that is twice the height of your desired band plus 1/4″ seam allowance, and the same width of the opening you are sewing it too. I just lay down my shirt inside-out, and then trim my rectangle to the same size as the sleeve or hem.  Then pin it to the opening aligning your raw edges, sew and flip to the right side and press. (Sometimes I topstitch as well!)

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And now to share what I call the “faux band”, which I happily discovered by accident while getting to know the Princess.  You fold the fabric under the wrong side, and then back to the front like an accordian, leaving a small scant 1/4″ overhang (as if you were doing a blind hem).  You sew on the wrong side of the fabric, catching the fold, and then unfold it and BAM. What looks like a band.

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It is SO FAST, and I’m pretty excited by it.  The only thing to remember is that when cutting you’ll want to add enough to allow for the process on the ends of your sleeves or hem. Isn’t that cool??

Topstitching:

Topstitching is to sewing what guacamole is to my taco. It makes everything else sing.

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From top to bottom: a normal straight stitch (for neckbands), a double needle, a double coverstitch, and a zig zag stitch.

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For neck bands, I often do just a simple straight stitch (with ease!) close to the seam and in the seam allowance. This is one of the few times that I’ve never had a straight stitch break with knits–even my kid’s clothes that get stretch over heads frequently have held up well. I think it has to do with the fact that you’re sewing in the seam allowance which adds stability.

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A double needle or coverstitch also looks great, and you can either sew just under the seam in the seam allowance, or straddle the seam–anything goes,and I’ve seen it all when it comes to topstitching.  Another nice little touch is to topstitch the shoulder seams as well as the neckline.

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And lastly, let’s take a looksy at the flatlock stitch which is both a construction stitch as well as a decorative one.  I have seen this used on both the serged looking side (very sporty), as well as the ladder stitched side, and I think both look great. Something important to note with a flatlock stitch–it must always be used on the edge of the fabric, so if you’re trying to sew a hem or patch pocket etc, you must fold the fabric up so that you’re on the edge. Miranda has a great tutorial illustrating the flatlock technique.

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mad mim stretch yourself finishing techniques25a Finishing Techniques for Knit Fabric // Stretch Yourself

 I whipped up this little tee for my Bub just last night to demonstrate. (For the “cuff” I used my faux band technique combined with the flatlock stitch).

Wowza, weren’t ready for all that? Well don’t you worry, it’ll be here waiting for you when you are. I want this, like Miranda’s knit fabric guide, to be a thorough reference for you next time your sewing with knits!  You definitely won’t want to miss Miranda‘s companion post about tee shirt construction techniques today, and tomorrow we’ll talk about some really fun variations on the basic tee (maxi skirt and dresses!)

More Stretch Yourself:

Knit Fabrics and Selection at OLM // Cutting Knit Fabric at MM

Making a Pattern from a Tee Shirt at OLM // Drafting a Tee Pattern from Measurements at MM

Tee Shirt Dress Variation at OLM // Peplum Tee Variation at MM

Drafting and Sewing Leggings at OLM // Drafting and Sewing a Maxi Skirt at MM

Serger and Coverstitch Techniques at OLM // Baby Lock Diana Threading and Coverstitch at MM

BabyLock HortLogo K Tag1 Finishing Techniques for Knit Fabric // Stretch Yourself

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47 Comments

  1. Posted January 9, 2013 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    This is just a great series! I love this post about finishing techniques…just what I needed. I need some of the knit tape.

  2. Posted January 9, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    I’m trying to make Style Arc’s Ann tee into a TNT pattern. Tee’s are one garment everyone wears at one time or another. I’ve looked through books for tips on sewing tee’s and find a few tips but I think it’s time we had a whole book for sewing just tee’s!

    Thanks for these tutorials and if you ever feel even more ambitious, all of us sewists out here could use a book!

    Thanks for writing these posts – it’s timely!

    • Posted January 9, 2013 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Wow, Cathy! Thanks for the compliment! I would LOVE to write a book just about sewing with knits, I guess I just need to talk to the right person about it!:) If anyone knows that person,send them my way!

      • Posted January 9, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

        I’ve been looking all over the net for info on sewing with specific knits when making tee’s. It would be nice not to have to reinvent the wheel but I guess I’m going to have to do it myself. If there were an ebook/book out there that would show you how to alter the tee to suit various knits – such as 25%, 50%, 75% stretch – I would buy it in a heartbeat!

        Also, I noticed your stitching is right on! It’s precision sewing – that’s why I thought of you writing a book. You could write it yourself, offer it as a download on various sites and you might hit the jackpot. Just saying….. :)

        Have a great day!

      • Brittany Hass
        Posted February 5, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        I am that person! I’m an amateur sewist and professional graphic designer and proofreader. I would love to help with a book or e-book like that. Please email me if you’re serious about heading into book-land! Maybe we can figure something out :)

  3. Posted January 9, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Wow! That post sure came a long way!! What an awesome reference. Love it!

  4. Posted January 9, 2013 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Wow! What a heavy post with SO much information! I have to say that I don’t own a serger – I use the industrial machines at work. But this post made me think about buying one. I do so much sewing that the cost-per-use ratio would justify the money.

  5. Posted January 9, 2013 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    This is so useful – I am going to try some of these techniques today!

  6. JP
    Posted January 9, 2013 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    Hi Miriam: this post was great!

    I wanted to ask about hemming in particular – I’ve done double needle stitching and zigzags for hems and cuffs, but I still find the stitches break when putting the garment on. Would you have any specific tips to stop this from happening? As well, how do you stop a knit hem from curling up over time?

    • Posted January 9, 2013 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

      Hey JP, great question. Yeah, the truth about double needles is that they are pretty hit and miss. You can try to add a little more ease by ever-so-slightly tugging on the fabric as it feeds under the presser foot, that might help. And as for the zig zag snapping, I would try to increase the width and shorten the length of the stitch so that it has more room to stretch. As annoying as it is, there really isn’t a sure-fire fix for those problems until you invest in a coverstitch machine, which eventually might be worth it to you. Good luck, if you discover a good solution be sure and let me know! xo

  7. Karen
    Posted January 12, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I love all the pictures. In the bound neckline instructions, did you mean to say that the binding should be folded WST?

    • Posted January 12, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Yep, sure did! Thanks for pointing that out!

  8. Posted January 14, 2013 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    My problem with twin needles is not that the stitches skip, but that the threads always tangle up inside my machine…is this normal, or am I doing something wrong?

  9. Lizzie
    Posted January 14, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I feel like this is such a dumb question. How do you add ease when topstitching the neckline without really stretching it out? Are you just sort of barely stretching it as you sew?

    • Posted January 14, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      Nope, not dumb. Yes, you just barely barely stretch it, like the tiniest tug while feeding. It’s not scary though, just give it a try and you’ll be fine!

  10. Posted January 18, 2013 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed your article on sewing knits. However, I didn’t notice any mention of using a stretch, or ball-point needle in the sewing machine. I jave found that it helps with skipped stitches and prevents piercing the knit fabric. Now, I can’t explain why my serger sews without skips and piercings. Gotta tell you – I’ve owned 3 Babylock sergers-the latest one an Evolve, and would never recommend any other brand. Thank you for your articles.

    • Posted January 18, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      Marie, YES using stretch or ball point needles is SO important! It’s the first thing I mention in my article (fiirst paragraph after inrto)! And when I talk about skipped stitches, I’m referring to using the double needle on my sewing machine . I’ve never had a problem with my serger doing that, thank goodness! I’m new to Babylock, but completely sold! They are fantastic, and someday I aspire to the Evolve!

  11. Posted January 18, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing these techniques. I’m going to give a few of these a try with some heavier knits to see what happens.

  12. Rachel
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I just wanted to also add my thanks for all these techniques. What a blessing to have all these in one spot. Oddly, when I have not used a technique in awhile I seem to forget exactly how to do it so it is nice to be able to pin this and have it available when I need it!

  13. Karen
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    This was an awesome article. I love that you show both sides of the fabric for each stitch.
    Now I want your serger!

  14. Betty A
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Just bought an Evolve. This post and website are just what I have been looking for, expert help with my serger.
    Thanks

  15. Posted January 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I have a question, when you are cutting out the neck band does it need to be a tiny bit smaller than the shirt and if so, by how much?

    Thanks,

    Emily

    • Posted January 26, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

      So yes, the neckband is supposed to be smaller, any where from 3/4′s to 7/8 the length, usually about 3/4′s for me. Some people just go with 10% smaller, but you need to troubleshoot with each fabric you’re using depending on the stretch.

  16. Posted January 26, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    P.S. I am wondering, I don’t know if my computer posts up stairs posts! I entered all the contests, but I don’t think they posted. Cause I also posted on this post how useful it would be, and as I ask this question it looks like it didn’t post. My computer upstairs…errrrg.

    • Posted January 26, 2013 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      Hmmm, I don’t know. I think I got all your entries for the giveaways, I remember seeing them, however I don’t know whether I saw the last comment about usefulness that you mention.. that is so frustrating!!

  17. Pepper
    Posted February 6, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    When I bought my first surger I had to go to a factory machine store in an industrial part of Sacramento. I had never seen so many odd machines. I bought my Juki surger that cut and finished knits at 1500 stitched a minute – a true factory machine. The surger has moved into home use and will now do a flatlock, rolled hem, and even more that I never could do on my Juki. Now I am going to finally get one with all the latest features. Thank you for such a clear reference and tutorials. I’m sure I will hunt them all down. Thank you so much for sharing.

  18. l miller
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for all of the info, you answered alot of my questions. just got a serger and was alittle overwhelmed. your tutorial was very clear and easy to understand.I made the
    “faux band” on my first tee shirt and it looks great.

  19. Sheri Castorena
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    I have been searching for information on how to sew knits. Not even at Jo-Anns Fabric stores have I been able to locate a book or video on sewing with knits. Your examples are precisely what I’ve been looking for. However I’m confused on which you did with a regular sewing machine and which you did with a serger. I personally learn much better from seeing how something is done as opposed to reading instructions. Please, please, please would you consider making a DVD to teach your methods? There really is a need for it and I’d be the first to buy it. Thanks in advance!

  20. Posted May 7, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    I know I’m a little late to the game here, but I just found this series and it is incredible! Thank you so much for sharing your expertise in such a detailed, as well as visual way. I normally sew lingerie, and am pretty comfortable with all that entails, but am a total wuss when it comes to regular garment sewing because I hate to hem. I’ll be referring back to this often. Oh, and I also have a Diana and agree that she is a little dreamboat :) Thank you again!

    • Posted May 7, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      So glad you find it all helpful, I love to hear it! Thanks for your sweet comment!

  21. Katy
    Posted July 30, 2013 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    THANK YOU for this post. I’m still learning how to sew with knits, and while I’ve put my garments together, I am struggling with how to finish them neatly. This is exactly what I am looking for, thank you so much for your help!

  22. Sylvia
    Posted September 13, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Looks like I need to invest in some knit stay tape. Thanks for the ideas.

  23. Wanda
    Posted November 1, 2013 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    Hi
    One thing that isn’t mentioned here is doing the blind hem for knits . That’s on the sewing machine and you can also do them on an serger that has a blind hem foot attachment. Another hem option is a shell edge on your sewing machine or sewing a ruffle on the hem.

    • Posted November 4, 2013 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for mentioning that here, I’m glad to have that mentioned for other readers!

  24. Posted December 1, 2013 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this post about knits….its literally saved me frustration!! :-)

  25. Posted January 4, 2014 at 4:10 am | Permalink

    For the first time and forever, this answers all my per”knit”ckety questions. God bless you.

  26. Margaret Dunn
    Posted January 26, 2014 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    This is the most comprehensive article on knits that I have had the privilege of seeing on the internet. Thank you! I have one extra question for you. Can you please explain how to get a nice square finish at the bottom corner of where the cardigan band meets the bottom front hem of a garment? My band is either a tad too short or a tad too long, and the cardigans that I have bought all seem to be exactly even! What is the trick for this, please?

    • Posted January 27, 2014 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

      I can’t quite picture what you mean, but if I do understand it has to do with how much you’re stretching the band–you’ll have to fenagle until you find that perfect ease that doesn’t pull nor hang; it can take some patience! I’m sorry if that’s not a ton of help! Hope you figure it out!

  27. Posted March 4, 2014 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Hi! Thank you so much for such an informative article! I just bought a janome coverstitch and I love it! What a difference. The thing I am struggling on though is the hem on really small cuffs, ie baby leggings. The circumference is so very small that I can’t really sew a neat stitch will trying to manuevere the fabric around. Would you ever use the coverstitch to sew the hem before the inseam? And then serge the inseam after? If so, how do you secure the serged inseam? I tried the ” thread it and tuck it back into the seam” method but I am worried that will pull out to easy as toddlers move around so much and then the inseam may start to unravel… Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!!

    • Posted March 6, 2014 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      Amanda I always sew the hem before the inseam with small garments, and to secure the ends I always just do a few zig zags or backstitches on my sewing machine, which sews all the serged edges down! And aisn’t coverstitching the best?!

  28. Posted March 8, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    I LOVE your blog, especially this page! I use it as a reference often. Thank you for sharing this valuable information. In one of your other posts you mentioned that you often look at the inside of clothes more than the outsides while shopping. I am totally with you on that nerdiness. Cheers and thanks!

    • Posted March 12, 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Carrie, it’s nice to know there are other clothing construction nerds out there! Solidarity!

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      all the stuff (photos & tutorials etc) that you see around here is copyrighted by me (miriam tribe) for madmim.com. when using any of my stuff (photos & tutorials etc) for your stuff (blog, website or forum) please cite my website & work by linking back. thanks!